It’s a funny word: aloha. Ten days ago it was full of hugs and hellos, a family reunion in paradise. It meant Welcome to Maui. We were shuttling people in a mini van between the Kahului airport and an ocean front condo in Kihei, anxious to ditch our bags and decorate the sand with our footprints.
My side of our family lives in three different states, but for the next nine days we would only be separated by a few condo doors. My anticipation had been building for months, and the kids’ had been overflowing for weeks. Judging by the increased phone calls from my brother and parents, I think they felt the same.
For nine straight evenings, the Island sang aloha to us each morning and evening, and we were at peace:
But then it came time to say aloha to the Island, and that is a different thing indeed.
For me, there comes a time in every vacation that the dread of its end clouds the days that are left. I know I should relish each moment, but I can’t help but wake in the middle of the night and twitch my fingers on the bedsheets, counting the days and hours until we have to return to regular life. It was even worse this time, because on this trip we had to say goodbye to both Maui and my family. The simultaneous goodbyes made my middle of the night anxiety worse than ever.
Island time might be slow, but this trip went far too fast. Then again, when is anyone ready to say aloha to Hawaii, to pack their swimsuits and take a final stroll in the sand? Maggie refused to take off her beloved luau dress, so we threw a cardigan over top and leggings underneath and headed to the airport. We hadn’t even left the island yet, and winter was already closing in on us, smothering the flowers on her dress.
The mood of human Hawaiian exports at the airport is never jovial. Security lines are long enough to be annoying, but not long enough to let us legitimately miss our flights. There are extra agricultural checkpoints we don’t really understand. This time I personally witnessed the aloha spirit slip, as I watched two twig-sized, overly tanned wrinkled ladies laden with shopping bags cut in line at the gate. All the young mothers were too busy balancing a diaper bag on one arm and rocking their giant strollers with the other to notice, or surely a fist fight would have ensued.
Our direct flight from Maui to Anchorage had been cancelled, so we were routed through Seattle for a 12 hour trek that robbed us of beach time on one end and sleep on the other. Our reserved seats had been given away, so our family was now separated and there was, of course, “nothing they could do.” I was just starting to accept it all when the beverage cart arrived and the flight attendant slapped this napkin on my tray table:
I’m sorry Alaska Airlines, but there’s a reason you only pass out free mai tais on the flights to Hawaii. We all need a much stronger drink on the way back to Alaska, and you know it, so perhaps you could be a little sensitive and print some consolation napkins? Or maybe this is the leg to offer a complimentary cocktail?
It was 6 degrees when we landed. It was nearly 3 AM when we pulled into the driveway, thankful that there had not been a deluge of snow while we were gone but wishing there had been enough to cover the tracks we made a few weeks ago to Kodi’s grave. Coming home definitely brought it all back.
Then we pulled into the garage, opened the car doors, and were punched in the face by a foul, rancid odor. Clark scrunched his face and proclaimed, “Something is definitely dead in here!” It didn’t take long to discover the source: a failed garage refrigerator, with a freezer full of thawed, rotted chicken and fish. Instead of unpacking suitcases, Clark unpacked the freezer and even threw the fridge into the driveway in an attempt to clear out the stench.
With that we flopped into bed – our queen size, instead of the luxurious condo king where there was such distance between us that I could barely hear Clark snore and when I did I couldn’t even reach him for a good kick. Back to reality.
Things felt better this morning. Alaska might not be paradise, but I must admit it’s spectacular. Tonight the same sun said aloha over the same Pacific Ocean. It looks different from here, with chunks of ice strangling the tide. Without the warm waves and soft sand. But it’s still breathtaking.
I’ve said goodbye to Hawaii three times now, but I’m confident we’ll go back.
I’ve said goodbye to family countless times since we moved to Alaska, and it never gets easier. As I write, mine is embarking on journeys back to separate Midwestern states, where the same sun says an equally spectacular aloha over cornfields and prairies instead of oceans.
Which brings me to another Hawaiian word: mahalo, or thank you. I say mahalo for the sunsets our family has enjoyed together. I say mahalo for the freedom and confidence our parents instilled in us, letting us wander off to watch sunsets on our own for a while. And mahalo for the love that keeps bringing us back together, to enjoy them as a family once again.
And, most of all, I look forward to our next aloha.